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Barnett, Peppers & Mario

Bills linebacker Nick Barnett was doing some elite training in March at the Athletes Performance Institute in Phoenix. The place has become famous among football fans because it’s one of the centers where top draft prospects go to get ready for the NFL Scouting Combine workouts. But veteran pro athletes in many sports also go there during their offseasons to get high-level speed and strength conditioning.

Barnett was there with Chicago Bears star pass rusher Julius Peppers when the NFL’s free-agency signing period opened.

“I was in Arizona,” Barnett said after Tuesday’s spring practice in Orchard Park. “It was me and Julius Peppers, and we were joking around. He said, ‘I think we’re gonna sign Mario Williams.’ I just said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Then I came in the next day and said, ‘Looks like we got him, bro.’ It was definitely exciting. If he comes in and does what he’s capable of doing and what he’s been doing, it makes us a better team just with that.”

As was widely reported at the time, the Bears were very interested in recruiting Williams. It’s worth reiterating that the Bills’ front office – Russ Brandon, Jim Overdorf and Buddy Nix – did a good job of lobbying Williams' agent that they were “all in” on the pursuit of the star defensive end and that he should make Buffalo his first visit. It obviously helped that Williams was intrigued by Buffalo and was not fixated on a “bright lights-big city” destination.

---Mark Gaughan


Chan on Merriman, Stevie

The organized team activity workouts officially are voluntary, but 88 of the 90 players on the team were in the building at One Bills Drive on Tuesday for the first day of practice.

Defensive end Shawne Merriman, rehabilitating from Achilles tendon surgery last fall, was at a doctor's appointment. The only other absent player was undrafted rookie safety Delano Howell, who is finishing up school requirements at Stanford.

Gailey on Merriman: “He was gone today. Today was the only day he could see the doctor to get final clearances on some stuff. He'll be back Thursday.

Will Merriman be on the field when he gets back? “I think so. It depends on whatwe hear from the doctors."

Receiver Stevie Johnson had groin surgery about a month ago. Gailey said he's not expecting him to practice until the end of July. 

“Training camp, training camp," Gailey said on Johnson's likely return date. "I don’t see him making minicamp. I’d love to say he would, but I don’t know if he will or not. We’ll see. ... You don’t ever want to rush it to the point where you have a chance of injuring a guy further. We’ll try to be smart about it, but if he can work we’ll work him. He needs it like everybody else. We all need it.”

Said Johnson: "I’m feeling good. They got me doing a lot of work in the pool and in my first day out here doing ladders and strides. Right now we’re a good five weeks and I don’t really feel too much in my groin. It’s just a little bit in my hamstrings. Once we get that out of the way then I’ll be full go."

Cornerback Terrence McGee and defensive tackle Kyle Williams worked in individual drills but not 11-on-11 sessions. Other players sitting out due to injury rehabilitation included: center Eric Wood, cornerback Chris Hill, safety Josh Nesbitt, tackle Erik Pears, tight end Mike Caussin, receiver Kamar Aiken, defensive tackle Torell Troup and defensive end Lionel Dotson.

---Mark Gaughan

Clowney tweets HIV-free test


Bills receiver David Clowney posted a tweet on Tuesday stating he got a negative test for AIDS. "Got My HIV results back!!! Thank God for keeping my body healthy and safe" said Clowney. And he posted a photo of the test (above).

This prompted various reactions. One follower tweeted: "I applaud @DavidClowney for tweeting his HIV results. It raises awareness. Everyone needs to get tested."

In apparent response to critics of his tweet, Clowney posted: "Some people are Ridiculously stupid ... And can't see the bigger picture about things that are important in this world." And: "Everyone should get tested!! ... Don't wait till HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to find out if you have it or not!!" And: "I'm never the type to let things get to me. But it bothers the hell out of me to know people make jokes about AIDS and HIV!!"

Clowney was signed by the Bills right after last season ended, on Jan. 5. in He has 22 catches for 341 yards in three NFL seasons, mostly with the Jets. He's a speedster, and he's bidding to earn playing time among a group of contenders for the outside receiver position opposite Stevie Johnson. Clowney also has used twitter to promote his foundation. He's running a youth football camp and charity weekend in Delray, Fla., June 7-10.

---Mark Gaughan

Kids Day set for Pitt game

The Bills have set their annual Kids Day promotion for the second home preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game is 7 p.m. Aug. 25 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Tickets for children age 14 and under are $15. Kids Day festivities begin at 3:30 p.m. They include youth-themed tailgating, a gameday giveaway, interactive games, face painting, the Jills cheerleaders, Billy Buffalo, stage performances by artist Glenn Colton and Jeff Musial of Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics, as well as post-game fireworks.

---Mark Gaughan

NFL OKs Bills-Toronto extension

The Buffalo Bills got approval from the NFL today to strike a deal to extend their series of games in Toronto.

A contract between the Bills and Rogers Communications still must be finalized, but it's expected the Bills will agree to make a regular-season appearance in Toronto for five more years, through 2017. Both the Bills and Rogers Communications have repeatedly said over the past year they would like an extension of their current five-year deal, which runs out at the end of this season.

"The International Committee’s decision to approve the continuation of our games in Toronto is a crucial step in our ongoing efforts to regionalize our franchise," said Bills Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon in a statement. "As we have stated on many occasions, the regionalization process remains vital to keeping our franchise strong in Western New York. We are continuing our discussions with Rogers Communications on a new deal and remain optimistic that we can come to an agreement in the near future.”

The decision came in a vote of the NFL’s International Committee during the league’s three-day spring owners meetings in Atlanta.

Mary Owen, Bills executive vice president of strategic planning, is the Bills' point person in striking the extension. She is on the nine-member NFL International Committee. She serves on the panel along with team owners Clark Hunt (Kansas City), Jeffrey Lurie (Philadelphia), Rita LeBlanc (New Orleans), George McCaskey (Chicago) and John York (San Francisco), plus Tampa Bay co-chairman Joel Glazer, Pittsburgh president Art Rooney, and San Diego president Dean Spanos.

This season’s game in the Rogers Centre pits the Bills against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 16.

Rogers agreed to pay a $78 million fee for the first five years of the series, which averaged out to roughly twice what the Bills gross from a sold-out game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills have grown their Canadian fan base since the start of the series. Southern Ontario has crept past Rochester in the Bills’ regionalization effort, accounting for a bit more than 15 percent of the fans at games in Orchard Park.

---Mark Gaughan



Mario Williams to wear 94

The Bills have announced new defensive end Mario Williams will wear No. 94.

Williams wore No. 90 for six years for the Houston Texans, but current Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay was not willing to give up the jersey, and Kelsay said Williams did not lobby him to give up the number. Williams wore No. 9 in college at North Carolina State. He wore No. 82 in high school.

Defensive end Kyle Moore, a three-year NFL veteran, wore No. 94 for the Bills over the last seven weeks of last season. He was added to the team in November off Detroit's practice squad. Moore is now No. 54 for the Bills.

No. 94 does not have a long history for Buffalo, but it's a good one. Aaron Schobel wore it from 2001 to 2009. Special teams ace Mark Pike wore it from 1987 to 1998. Before that it was worn only by Richard Tharpe and Billy Witt.

---Mark Gaughan


Individual-game seats gone for KC, NE

The Bills announced that single-game tickets are sold out for the first two home games of the 2012 season.

There will be no individual-game seats available for the home opener against Kansas City on Sept. 16 and the second home game, against New England on Sept. 30. Tickets for those games still are available for fans who want to buy season tickets.

The team gave season-ticket holders the chance to buy individual-game seats on May 16. Group tickets go on sale on June 9. The general public can buy tickets to individual games starting on July 10. 

The Bills' other five home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium this year are vs. Tennessee Oct. 21, Miami Nov. 15, Jacksonville Dec. 2, St. Louis Dec 9 and the New York Jets on Dec. 30.

---Mark Gaughan

Glenn latest draft pick to sign

The Buffalo Bills continue to knock off rookie contracts, with second-rounder Cordy Glenn the latest to sign this morning.

Glenn, the 41st overall pick in the draft out of Georgia, is expected to compete with Chris Hairston for the team's starting left tackle job.

His rookie deal, as they all do, covers four years. Terms have not been released, but last year's 41st pick, defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins of the Washington Redskins, signed a contract worth nearly $4.8 million. Glenn's contract should fall in line with that.

Glenn made 50 starts in 53 college games with the Bulldogs, matching the school record for most starts by an offensive lineman. The 6-foot-6, 345-pounder made the all-Southeastern Conference first team in 2011.

The Bills have now signed eight of their nine draft picks, with only third-round wide receiver T.J. Graham of North Carolina State still unsigned.

---Jay Skurski

Bills get deal done with Gilmore

The Buffalo Bills this morning announced that first-round draft pick Stephon Gilmore has signed. The South Carolina cornerback was the 10th overall pick in April's draft.

Gilmore's signing means seven of Buffalo's nine draft picks are now under contract. Second-round pick Cordy Glenn and third-round T.J. Graham remain unsigned.

---Jay Skurski


Bills sign three, cut two

Rookie minicamp over the weekend was a success for fullback Dorin Dickerson and safety Nick Saenz, both of whom signed free agent contracts with the Buffalo Bills, the team announced today.

Buffalo also signed offensive tackle James Carmon, and released quarterback Aaron Corp and safety Ian Wild. 

Dickerson, 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, played college football at Pitt under Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. He's a former seventh-round draft choice of the Houston Texans in 2010, appearing in seven games predominantly on special teams. He's also spent time on the practice squad for both New England and Pittsburgh.

Dickerson, 24, is an impressive athlete. He ran a 4.4 40 at the combine, with a 43.5-inch vertical jump. He lined up as an H-back during the team's minicamp.

Saenz, 6-0, 195, joins the Bills from Houston. He played in 52 career games with the Cougars, starting for three years. 

Carmon played last season at left tackle for Mississippi State after switching from the defensive line after the 2010 season. The 6-7, 320-pounder started 10 of 11 games in 2011. 

Corp's release leaves the Bills without a developmental quarterback on the roster behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and backups Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen. The team also had Alex Tanney in over the weekend on a tryout basis, but did not offer the Monmouth College product a contract.

Wild had an interesting back story. He's a former football and lacrosse player for Mercyhurst who gave up his final lacrosse season this spring to pursue an NFL career. In the 2011 Division-II lacrosse championship game, Wild scored four goals and was named the most outstanding player of the game in Mercyhurst's 9-8 win over Adelphi.

---Jay Skurski

@JaySkurski on Twitter

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